The Gift of Hunger


Successful long-term food consciousness is not as might be assumed ground out through constant pain and strenuous willpower but is approached more obliquely than head-on. A horns-locked battle of wills between competing desires is not sustainable. There might arise a mild ache or burn, enough to prompt alertness but not so to push further into pain. A light hunger through much of the day is a surprisingly convivial companion if freely entertained, it then being a play with energy and awareness rather than suffering. Too much effort to control is a sign that’s something is wrong and is untenable. The question to ask is can I do this each day for the rest of my life?

A gradual and gentle approach is physically and psychologically preferable, a trajectory like an airliner spiraling down to land gently on the runway. Our experience is more akin to walking along a low but narrow wall than pushing a car; that is we are playing in the arena of balance and awareness rather than brute force. The movement is toward sensitivity not away from it.

Rather than melodramatic gestures that soon fade it’s more effective to make changes that are small but accumulate. Our course is like the turning of a huge ship on the ocean, a movement imperceptible at any instant but over time profound in its sweep. Achievement is an edifice built of multitudes of small but carefully placed stones.

Of course there are many techniques to reduce or delay hunger, ramparts against a wave of compulsion, but the body’s perceived need for extra energy will eventually eat through these defenses by increasing hunger hormones. While they might be useful to have in a toolbox of tricks to even out appetite between days the most powerful technique in the long term is being familiar and comfortable with mild hunger itself.

The interaction with hunger can be quite delicate, we might play it out like a large fish caught on a line, letting the line out when taut and drawing it in when slack so that its movements become tighter, more controlled circles over time.

We can remember to “Let life itself be the main course” or that “The first bite is the banquet” or “Enough is better than a feast”. There’s really no deprivation, merely the emphasis of a careful form of self-realization over a reckless one. Hunger gives as it takes.

In time the false attraction of craving becomes a weaker and weaker force, the gravity of a planet we are leaving far behind us.

The modern ideal of complete comfort at all times with every whim satisfied is not happiness but an empty promise of it. It’s a negation of true living, a shrinking from the world. There’s no need to be squeamish about a small amount of daily discomfort.

The mild hunger that parallels food consciousness roughly corresponds to it but rises and falls with rhythms of its own. The body of any animal prefers more food to add to its long term stores of energy – fat that is – but doesn’t have a vital need for it. Light hunger is more of a routine alarm as sensors are tripped than a shout for survival as actual starvation would be.

The sense of satiation is an unpredictable and inconstant measure that only has a shaky relationship with either quantity eaten or the body’s real needs. It waxes and wanes with tides and currents all its own, seemingly arbitrarily influenced by events. Emotional upset for example can distort it in either direction for days at a time. As a generalization short term acute upsets will depress hunger but chronic ones may inflame it.

Remember also satiation’s delayed response; twenty minutes or more after food we’re still eating by this sense.

Our pleasure-worshipping culture paradoxically aims to distract itself from the sensation of food rather than meeting it head on in each instant. The counterweight to sensuality is the here and now; when we are really alive to it it begins to evaporate like morning mist in the sun.

More generally an activity that requires acute present time awareness such as standing still on one foot is incompatible with any of the brand name popular passions like anger, hate or jealousy. Try it and see that the mind has no space to hold both consciousness and emotion at the same time.

Insight as art and science